No matter where in the world you grow food or what you grow, the keys to getting a successful crop from your garden are always the same.
Whether it’s the health of your soil or when the crop goes in, certain conditions must be met for your desired crop to come to fruition. Every crop, of course, has slightly different management—tomatoes, for instance, have different trellising needs than, say, broccoli—but the basic principles are the same. So let’s dive into the important factors that lead to a healthy crop to get this year’s garden growing right.
1. Healthy Soil
It all begins with soil. Achieving healthy soil starts with a soil test, and I recommend getting that test from a lab that does Albrecht method soil balancing. Unlike your local extension agent (where you can also get a test), these labs tell you which minerals your soil lacks in the root zone. It also reveals your soil’s organic matter. Apply compost and the minerals the lab suggests at the rates the test specifies for the highest yield. Also consider some amount of compost tea or extract to add the microbial life that’s needed.
2. Good Bed Preparation
If you plan to till, do not till when it is too wet. If the soil smears between your fingers instead of gently crumbling, that is too wet. Also consider no-till gardening. You can do this by adding thick layers of mulch to a bed and allowing several months for it to break down. If you don’t have that amount of time, try adding a thick layer of compost and planting directly into that.
3. Fresh Seed
It is always tempting to use old seed, but unless it’s kept in ideal conditions, old seed has probably lost some of its germination rate and might not perform as well for you.
4. The Right Variety
Wherever you are and whenever you plan to grow the crop, find varieties that match your climate or at least your heat or cold. If you live in a colder climate, look for cold-hardy varieties. In hotter climates, or for summer crops, look for those slow to bolt or ones that can handle the heat—whatever your average heat might be.
5. Healthy Transplant
When using transplants, make sure the crop is healthy and vigorous before putting it in the soil. Adding a weak crop to the soil can lead to disease and pest issues.
6. Proper Establishment
Once the crops hit the soil, it’s important to make sure that they get established well. The block of soil should be covered completely so as to not dry out. Irrigate if conditions are dry. Immediately apply any sort of frost or pest protection.
7. Pest Protection
The biggest issue most crops face in terms of pests do not come from the soil, but rather they fly in (or walk in, as the case might be for deer). So making sure the susceptible crops are safe is a great way to ensure the crop’s success. Cover crops such as arugula and spring brassicas with row cover varieties that are sensitive to pest damage. Putting some amount of perimeter protection for your bigger pests (deer, hogs, and so on) might also be essential in some areas.
8. Good Moisture
You can keep the crop in moist soil many different ways, but doing so is necessary for the success of most crops. Some crops are drought tolerant, but crops live off the microbial activity below them, and the microbes need water. Keep the soil covered to preserve moisture and consider some amount of irrigation.
9. Weed Management
Weeds can quickly smother and outcompete crops, making them unproductive or difficult to harvest. So managing weeds becomes a critical step in having a successful crop of any sort. Not tilling helps, as does regular garden cultivation. If you address weeds from the very beginning, before there is an issue, they will always be easier to manage, which will lead to a more successful crop.